Yesterday was Vin Scully’s last home opener as the Dodgers’ broadcaster and, befitting his legend, they included him in pregame ceremonies, paying him tribute and the like. Tyler Kepner of the New York Times has a piece up about it and him and everything today.
I watched the first four or five innings of the Dodgers-Dbacks game specifically to listen to Vin. Is he as sharp as he was 30 years ago? No. Age affects us all, and Vin is no different. Some names get garbled and a reference to ancient Greece becomes “ancient Rome” but everything you want from a Vin Scully broadcast is still there. Indeed, those little slips and the fact that that they don’t detract from the experience actually reveal what that is.
Baseball broadcasting has become so information and analysis intensive in recent years. It’s understandable in that baseball itself has become that, but there was no reason why the game, as a television production, had to follow the game as it is approached by clubs and analysts. While it’s nice that many broadcasters have kept up with advances in analytics and things, there is no reason why play-by-play guys need to provide us with so much information and to provide it as often as they do. There’s certainly no reason why we need ex-players to do deep-dive insight. When they do this to excess, they feel like they’re talking to insiders, not an audience watching television. The entertainment value of a broadcast has taken a back seat to minutiae and stats and the mindset of managers and players as opposed to the mindset of fans.
No one can replicate, let alone easily replicate, the flow and warmth of Vin Scully. No one could tell his stories like he tells them. But I’m not sure why more networks haven’t made a point to hire broadcasters who follow his general approach. His general approach which is not just relying on his voice, his warmth and his stories.
Get past his easy cadence, his turns of phrase, his legendary status and what are you getting from a Vin Scully broadcast? Or, what are you not getting? You’re not getting deep analysis usually. He’ll tell you how a guy is doing and he will drop in stat trends and things here and there, but that’s in service of a larger story, not the actual product he’s providing. He’s likewise not breaking down any one play in too great detail. He’ll say what’s happening, in casual baseball fan terms, as it happens and then he’ll talk about what just happened again if it was notable. But he will not analyze it to death. What’s going on is a ballgame, not a surgical procedure.
He’s just talking to people. People who are not in the baseball industry and thus don’t have much use for a lot of what gets beaten to death during baseball broadcasts these days. He doesn’t “stick to baseball,” as so many baseball people are told to do. Why should he? He’s broadcasting to thousands upon thousands of people every single night, all of whom have their own backgrounds and frames of reference. They have dads so he’ll tell a story about Jake Lamb‘s dad. They may have studied a bit of history, so he’ll riff on Socrates Brito’s name a bit. The game is a pastime and he approaches his role as one who helps viewers pass the time. They have the game right in front of them, after all. Why should he shove it down their throats?
People, especially in the past couple of years, say things like “there will never be another Vin Scully.” I understand that, but I don’t really believe it. Obviously he’s a multi-generational talent, but he’d be the first one to tell you, I imagine, that he wasn’t always VIN SCULLY. He is not a god or a superhero. He’s a guy who was allowed to hone his craft in his own way until he became great at it. But there is no reason why other broadcasters can’t provide the same type of game experience. Bob Uecker does the same sort of thing and he is likewise great at it. There are other guys out there, usually when games are out of hand, who show the ability to do this too, though it seems like they’re not allowed to do it all the time.
But I remain convinced that others who aren’t as great as Scully and Uecker could, over time, back up a bit on the deep dives and focus more on passing the time with viewers and listeners, refusing to stick to baseball as if it’s the only thing in the world that exists. They could talk about the game and talk to the audience while serving both quite well.
After 2016 we won’t have Vin Scully anymore. And it will likely be decades before we get someone as great as him, if we ever do. But I’d be pretty darn happy to have a whole bunch of broadcasters that are half as great as him and whose greatness comes from making watching baseball a relaxing and enjoyable experience which blends the action I’m seeing before me into the fabric of my evenings and weekend afternoons.